UFO over Trindade Island: Trick or Truth?

by Tim Printy June 2004

Updated March 2005(updates in yellow)

Double trouble?

Additional efforts by Sparks seems to be focused on density readings of "first generation prints" that apparently eliminate the possibility of double exposure. This may be what Clark has suggested as the evidence to vindicate the case. However, Kentaro Mori has suggested that the printing process could hide effects of a double exposure if the printer knew what he was doing. Many critics of Mori's work suggest that trying to duplicate the process with digital images and programs are not an accurate substitute for the technology Barauna had at his disposal.The art of "dodging", "burning", increasing/decreasing contrast, cropping, etc. is not restricted to computer programs and can be duplicated in the darkroom by an experienced technician (which Barauna seemed to be). Any "first generation print" density measurement can not be considered entirely accurate because it is not an exact reproduction of what was on the negative. Only accurate measurements of the original negatives could give good results and, even then (because of the apparent treatment of the negatives), they might be suspect.

Mori is not the only person that thinks it was possible that such images can be faked and evade detection. Dr. Frank Salisbury demonstrated that it was possible to create an image that could be developed in front of eyewitnesses and show extremely dense UFO images in the sky (http://912a-87.umd.edu/ufosymposium/p243fake.html). Examining some of the literature of the time period, I noticed that several books talk about "trick photography" and how to do it. This included Kodak's 1957 edition of How to make good pictures. Baruna was obviously familiar with such techniques because he had experimented with this type of photography in the past.

As pointed out by Sparks in his measurements of the density, it is unlikely that Barauna created a conventional double exposure because the dark features on the island are too dark with no hint of a double exposure. However, a non-conventional double exposure would use an arrangement such that only one section of the negative would be exposed. Mark Mooney writes, "Simplest of all trick work is that done against a black background which is exposed so as not to register on the film" (Mooney 42). In other words, as long as the background of the exposure is completely black, then only the selected object will be recorded as the first image on a small section of the film. The second full frame daylight exposure would have no trace of the original image except for selected object. Any spill over around the image could easily have been corrected using a reducer as noted by Mooney,

Any portions of the black background in the negative which are not clear, through accidental reflections from the cloth or background, making a silver deposit on the negative, or through fog on the film, may be removed by using farmers reducer...the negative should be placed on a piece of glass....The reducer is applied with cotton or a brush and the glass should be held so that the light is reflected through it from a white surface such as a photographic tray, permitting the action to be watched at all times. (Mooney 45-6)

Recall that Barauna had treated at least two of the UFO negatives with some form of chemical process, which may have been a reducer!

However, Sparks states the UFO's density is greater than the background sky meaning that a double exposure of conventional style could not have produced the image unless Baruna was able to make sure the area behind the UFO was not exposed on the second shot. There could have been several methods to do this but many seemed too complex. However, a simple method would be to use an internal mask. In order to test this theory out, I inserted a negative strip of film I took of the planet saturn between the film and the shutter on my 35mm camera.

The process of inserting an internal mask (a negative of the planet saturn) to create a hoaxed image (top image). Note how the image is flush against the film when viewed from the front end (bottom image)

I then took a picture of the sky making a "non-conventional" double exposure onto the negative. In theory, the density readings would be similar to that of an actual object being in the sky because the dark saturn image would filter out the sky and produce a dark image on that area of the negative. All of the rest of the sky would pass through the clear negative (with some small filtration) and reach the film. All one would have to be concerned with is getting an accurate focus, which is not a serious problem if the inserted mask is not too thick. The resultant image is below.

My hoaxed image using an internal mask (exposure time was 1/250th second F8 on Plus-X film on a bright sunny day)

This was my first attempt and I did crop the image to hide some problems (after inserting the mask, I did not close the door all the way and light leaked onto the left side of the image) but it demonstrates the technique. Most important is that when I used Photoshop, the roof at the lower left was darkest with a luminosity of about 20, the "UFO" was higher with a value of 38, and the sky was about 150. This seems to be consistent with what Sparks was measuring with his density readings, where the UFO was darker than the background sky and the island had features that were darker than the UFO.

Brad Sparks has made some comments regarding this image:

Just _look_ at Printy's dark "Saturn" image! It looks grossly _distorted_, along with every single other image in the photo, like diffraction-type wave effects around everything! It looks like the photo was taken through the water of a cheap aquarium. There is simply no freakin way this is anything like the extremely sharp and clear Trindade UFO photos where the images have no such cheap-looking diffraction-like distortions, and the images are sharp down to at least the 25-micron level on the scale of the negatives. Printy has thus actually proven the exact opposite of what he claims, he has actually proven the physical impossibility of an "internal mask" type hoax, using even 2004 film techniques. (Sparks)

Unfortunately, Sparks never saw the original negative of Saturn and I never posted it. The image came from a box of old astrophotography negatives I have in my basement that are essentially worthless. Photographing planets is no easy task and the image is subject to atmospherics, periodic drive error, and accurate focus during the exposure. This Saturn exposure was on the order of 8-15 seconds in length and any distortion visible was on the original negative. Unfortunately, after taking these images, I disposed of the negative because I saw no reason to keep it. If one questions how sharp the mask image can be, I suggest they look at the two images below. In these images, the "UFO" is not distorted and is a lot sharper than the saturn image above. Additionally, Sparks suggestion that these techniques are isolated to 2004 is false. The only difference is that the films were made recently and the camera was a 35mm of modern manufacture. With the exception of modern improvements, film and cameras are not significantly different today than they were in 1958.

On the other hand, I agree in principle with Sparks statement that the photograph above is no comparison to the resolution visible in Barauna's image. This is because I used a 35mm image and Barauna took his on 6X6CM film. The area of the Barauna negative is about 3.5 times that of this 35mm making the resolution in any print much greater than a 35mm. Comparing the two is similar to comparing a 1.3 million pixel camera with a 4-5 million pixel camera. There is a significant difference. His claims of "diffraction rings" around everything seems to be more an exaggeration of what is visible in the image above. Even though there are probably some diffraction issues present, they are not easily visible as he claims. Recall, that this was my first attempt at doing this and was only meant to show the technique. It was not meant to be an exact duplicate of Barauna's photograph. Using a simple negative is not the only way one could create a clear mask. Photographic glass plates/sheet film that are developed (or maybe clear glass with the UFO drawn upon it) and then cut to fit could have been used. These are only suggestions on how this could have been done. As I stated below, this is a method that could have been used and not the method that was used.

If this technique was used, some have questioned how Barauna could insert the masks without fogging the film. It seems that those supporting this case want the images to be recorded at the same time the UFO was reported. However, Barauna could easily have inserted the masks using a film changing bag (or some form of makeshift equivalent) without fogging the film. Based on my experience, it would only take five to ten minutes to insert the masks and take six photographs. It could have been less depending on the experience of the photographer and how the masks were setup. Once the images were recorded, the stage would be set and Barauna could pretend to take his photographs while Viegas/Filho began screaming about seeing a UFO. In this scenario, the film would have been already advanced to the end of the roll while Barauna pretended to take his photographs in a fourteen second period.

In the case of Barauna, who was using large format roll film and did not have to worry about sprocket holes and a focal plane shutter (the shutters for Rolleiflex were not at the film plane like 35mm cameras), the insertion of the mask was much easier. I have never used a Rolleiflex but I have used a plastic medium format camera called a Holga. I attempted the technique with the Holga. Insertion of the mask was easier once I got a handle on dealing with the spools and tension on the film.

This technique could explain some items noted about the images. The "mirror" effect noted by Mori and others may have a lot to do on how Barauna created a mask or used the mask. It might have been the case that Barauna took pictures of a brightly lit model against a black background to create his masks from the resultant negatives. When he took the photographs, he may have varied the distance on purpose (or possibly accidently since the size does not change significantly) to give an impression of changing distance. The negative for P6 definitely would have to have been shot from a further distance to give that effect. The model/camera may have been flipped and turned around or the masks were flipped/inverted in order to give the impression that each image was different. If Barauna had thought this through, he would have attempted to hide tell tale indicators of a hoax such as the distance being the same and the UFO showing the same apparent image. This may or may not have been the method employed. It is only a suggestion but it appears to fit how the images appear.

A hoaxed UFO that "flips". If the insert was reversed, the ufo would also be mirrored. (Note: These images were taken with a 35mm camera and not a medium format camera)

Experts and amateurs alike continuously push the envelope on how to "trick" others into thinking impossible photographs are authentic. To say an image can not be faked is not really giving credit to most photographers. I don't consider myself an expert in trick photography but with one attempt, I produced an acceptable image that appeared to duplicate Barauna's. I am sure Barauna's skill was far more advanced than mine and he had some time to practice. Recall William Hyzer's caution about fraudulent photographs,

In my opinion, fakery is virtually impossible to prove in a well-contrived image. If certain anomalies are detected, the best that any photographic analyst can do is to point them out as possible or probable artifacts of photographic fakery. (Hyzer 13)

Barauna was not some sort of weekend photographer with a box camera. By all accounts he was an experienced photographer with skills and equipment that could create a hoax photograph of a UFO that COULD pass close inspection. His open self-denial of such a skill could easily have been his method of deflecting suspicion.

A serious problem that needs explaining

Probably the most interesting effort by Kentaro Mori has to do with the clouds visible in the prints. Although it is difficult to see the clouds in the originals (particularly P1), Mori has used some advanced computer filtering to enhance them. Recall that Barauna gave two different accounts of the clouds that day. Looking at Mori's enhancements, it seems his original statements of the sky being somewhat cloudy/overcast is most accurate but there appears to be some cirrus visible as well (a weather report from the island for the date in question might be most helpful).

When one examines Mori's representations of P1with P6 (which Mori calls P4 but is actually P6) and show the same area of the sky, one notices that the sky background is such that one can not see any of the same clouds. In fact, the sky conditions seem completely different! P6 seems to show high cirrus clouds with some low cumulus in the distance while P1 seems to show large cumulus clouds and not much in the way of clear skies. Mori notes the importance of this:

The clouds differences seem incompatible with the story of the photos as commonly given. At the very least, the time lapse from the first to the last shot is on the order of minutes, not seconds, and very strong winds account for the changes. At most, the first and the last shot were taken on diferent days and/or, more probable, the difference on the sky appearance is due to the photographic tricks used to create the UFO. (Mori Clouds)

Recall that it was Barauna who gave the time duration of 14 seconds between P1 and P6. Filho seemed to state the event lasted only 20 seconds! It seems unlikely that the sky could change so drastically that fast.

None of Barauna's photographs show low clouds around the island peaks visible so this implies that any clouds were much higher making their angular velocities fairly low. Assuming Mori's enhancements do show the cloud patterns correctly (I had similar results enhancing the images I downloaded from http://www.rr0.org/1958_Trinite.html and later when Mori gave me access to other scans), we are faced with the likelihood that the photographs were taken over a period of minutes (or tens of minutes) and not seconds.

Again, it is amazing that previous examinations by UFOlogists never noticed this problem with the images. This is a serious indicator of a potential hoax and it should not be ignored by Sparks "research team".

This has been addressed by Martin Shough, who has identified apparent similarities in the upper cloud patterns. Martin attempts to explain how these patterns fit into the scenario described by the witnesses. He calculates that the displacement of the cirrus cloud pattern he noted would require a 600 mph wind for a 14 second time frame. However, he notes that a more typical 50 knot wind would displace the clouds in 3.2 minutes! Instead of realizing this is a significant discrepency between the testimony and these values, Shough explains that maybe Barauna and others (Filho stated it transpired in about 20 seconds) were wrong in their time estimates in order to bring the time frame up to two minutes. He then suggests that the clouds could be below 20,000 feet and, therefore, the 50 knot wind speed would match this two minute value. This time frame is apparently verified by Brad Sparks, who took another approach to determine the time lapse between the first and last image.

Sparks seemed upset that I had mentioned that no UFOlogists had identified the issue of the cloud patterns and wrote:

As for Printy's points about time lapse between photos based on cloud formations (see his webpage), where he states "it is amazing that previous examinations by UFOlogists never noticed this problem with the images," in fact I had already studied not only Cloud Patterns but also Ocean Wave Patterns back in Sept 2002 when I received high-quality first-generation prints to study, thus long before Mori came along in 2003 (who along with Printy never seem to have thought of the Ocean Wave Patterns). These prove quite conclusively that the photos were all taken on the same day and approximate time, and must fit within the overall sighting duration of 1-3 minutes otherwise the distinctive ocean wave patterns would have moved farther than the approximately 50 meters of displacement that can be readily measured in the photos. The Ocean Wave Patterns can be located quite precisely on the ocean surface whereas the Cloud Patterns suffer from the difficulty of not being sure how high and how far away. Scientific analysis therefore must prefer the time lapse indicators from Ocean Wave Patterns over that of the highly uncertain Cloud Patterns. (Sparks)

Sparks never publicly announced he had noticed the problems with the cloud patterns and as a result, I did not give him credit. Had he done so, I surely would have mentioned it. My reference was not towards Sparks' "research team" but towards all the individuals who have examined the photographs since 1958 and proclaimed them authentic without even trying to explain the weather patterns. It again points towards a poor investigation over the years and a simple acceptance of these photographs as authentic. If it was observed prior to Sparks, then it should have been addressed by UFOlogists defending the case. It never has to the best of my knowledge and Sparks/Shough never attempted to explain it until Mori publicly displayed it on his web page..

Sparks now exposes us to something he refers to as "wave pattern" measurements and, apparently, is comparing these with known currents/winds in the area. I guess the problem I have with this is that ocean surface waves are affected by several variables and can not be something that is precisely determined. Even Sparks gives us a time frame of 1-3 minutes indicating that these values are not so "precise"as he claims. Although Sparks did not give any details on his measurements/calculations, Martin Shough did. Shough's analysis is based on Sparks measurement of 50 meters displacement (Shough does not show this measurement on his website so we have to accept this as accurate) and he arrived at an approximate value of two minutes.

This increased time frame brings up far more problems than it resolves. The only person that suggested the event lasted about a minute was Barauna but he stated that a bulk of that time period was before he even took the first image. In the actual Brazilian Navy report, it is stated that the photographs were taken in a time period that did not exceed 30 seconds. If the time frame was two minutes, the UFO would have been traversing the sky at a rate of about 5 degrees/second. This is a relatively slow pace compared to the 25-50 degrees per second calculated by Sparks in his posting on UFO Updates. If the UFO had sped across the sky, it could have been possible for a limited number of eyewitnesses and only one person obtaining photographs. However, one has to wonder how a professional photographer like Acevedo could miss an opportunity for a historic photograph if the event lasted on the order of over a minute. Even if he had "wet his pants" or was too far away, a minute or two would have been plenty of time for him to compose himself/make his way across the deck and get the shots. The same can be said for the other cameras that were supposedly on deck at the time. According to Barauna, "Besides myself, there were at least four other persons with cameras at the time of the sighting. But apparently they were not able to spot the object in time, or were paralyzed by their own emotions" (Fontes). We are now being led to believe that all these individuals were "paralyzed" or could not locate a slowly moving object over twice the size of the full moon for two minutes!

At present Sparks/Shough's explanations for the time period between the photographs appears to bring up serious problems with the original story told by the witnesses. Instead of confirming the testimony, they seem to demonstrate that it is potentially false. A likely explanation for the increased time length might be that this is how long it took Barauna to compose and shoot the hoax images. If this were the case and Barauna did manage a hoax, why did he create it and how did he convince everyone that many people saw the event?

The Hoax scenario

If Baruna had hoaxed the images, one has to wonder how Barauna was able to get anywhere between 3 and 100 witnesses to attest they had seen a UFO that did not exist. Any scenario has to conclude it was well thought out before hand and the accomplices in the hoax would include Viegas and Filho.

Nobody can tell why somebody might conduct a hoax but one can speculate (and I do mean SPECULATE). Recall that Barauna stated they diving group was going to break some sort of diving record. Perhaps they thought diving off the island of Trindade was going to get them on the cover of National Geographic or they might achieve some other form of notoriety being associated with the IGY. With the ship's mission ending, the group may have been disappointed in their diving results and wanted to end the trip in some grand fashion. By this time, they were probably aware of UFO sightings around the island that had been reported in the past few months. This could have planted the seed for a hoax idea and it just so happens that Barauna had done a little trick photography before. Whether it was to see if they could get away with such a hoax or to make the group famous (photographs of each of the witnesses in diving gear would later appear in the media), one can not say.

There are several methods the images could have been hoaxed. While double exposure seems to be the method most often suggested, another technique may have been used (such as the internal mask). As I previously pointed out, it is not that significant a feat to come up with a way to create such an image for an experienced photographer, who knows his equipment. In order to ensure that he did not make a mistake with his photographs, it is possible that Barauna already had the hoax film in his camera already exposed (and possibly already developed) and pretended to take the photographs of the UFO. Recall that Viegas mentioned that Barauna was reminded by an officer to rewind the film prior to opening the camera. This type of camera does not require rewinding of the film since the film is simply advanced to the takeup spool after the last frame is exposed. This may be to what Viegas was referring. However, it would seem completely out of place for an experienced photographer like Barauna to have forgotten about advancing the film after the last exposure. He had been doing this during the entire event, why would he "break stride" after the last photograph was taken and not advance the film? The short developing time also implies that something preloaded might have been inside the camera or substituted in the darkroom. Viegas and Baruna could have "gone through the motions" and just wet the already developed negatives to give the impression they were fresh from the developing tank. Evidence suggesting this was not possible is that Commander Bacellar stated he saw scenes on board ship that occurred prior to the UFO sighting. Of course, Bacellar was below deck and had no real idea what had transpired prior to the incident. Barauna could have taken pictures of any evolution on the ships deck on another date that might appear to be events that transpired just before the supposed sighting. Most important to note is that, after arriving home, Barauna had several days to doctor the prints and negatives in such a manner as to remove potential indications of a hoax!

Assuming Barauna created a hoax image, how did he convince the Brazilian navy/UFOlogists that there were many eyewitnesses? Recall that it was Viegas and Filho that first saw the UFO and began gesturing wildly about that the UFO was approaching. Many hands on deck were busy participating in other functions such as raising/lowering the small boat. With all the yelling, people probably looked out to see what everyone was screaming about. Some may have run towards Viegas and Filho (like the dentist) in order to see where they were looking giving the impression that "chaos" existed on deck and "others" saw the UFO. Of course, by then the UFO was essentially gone (the event lasted less than one minute by all accounts). Many did not see the UFO because of the brief duration of the event and there are only two individuals on record, besides Barauna, who stated openly they saw the UFO. Even Filho was reserved in commenting on the UFO story and did not really want to talk to the press.

Once the negatives had been developed and presented to Commander Bacellar, somebody would need to confirm the UFO on the negatives. Who do you think would be the first to examine the negatives? Most likely it was the individuals who had first sighted the UFO, Viegas and Filho. Once they stated they saw the UFO on the negative, the power of suggestion might take hold with those who thought they saw something in the sky (i.e. a seagull, balloon, dust specks, streaks, or maybe wishful thinking). Once he had his confirmation that something was on the negative by his staged witnesses, it would be just a matter of Barauna creating an image in his dark room that could pass close scrutiny. Luckily Barauna had several fallback explanations for this kind of work. He apparently had cut the negatives such that nobody could see the other images from the roll and he also reported treating some of the negatives.

Probably the biggest problem with the Barauna photographs is that the negatives have not been examined closely to determine what type of film was used and if the sequence of images matches that described by the witness. Additionally, the two other images, which did not show the UFO have never been presented as evidence. It is possible that the UFO image was not framed correctly and the excuse was that Barauna had been bumped. I have never seen these frames presented and this may be the reason.

There is no doubt that Barauna had the skill to create a series of hoax photographs. There now appears that he may have had the opportunity and, with the colaboration of a few individuals, was able to do so.

Summary

This is one of UFOlogy's landmark cases. As I have stated previously, such a case can not be debunked and anyone suggesting that the case is a hoax is subject to derision . Jerome Clark, who has taken the position that this case can not be a hoax, states in one of his books:

Given the number of witnesses, the results of photoanalyses both military and civilian, and the need for debunkers to reinvent the incident to "explain" it, it seems most unlikely that the Trindade photographs were hoaxed. (Clark 569)

To UFOlogists, the most important items are the photographs and the "many" eyewitnesses. Considering the lack of rigor in establishing true facts about this case, one has to question such blind acceptance. John Harney's observations are very astute when it comes to this case:

The main problem with this case is that nearly all the details published, in the press, and even in official documents, seem to have come directly, or indirectly from Almiro Barauna, and some of the statements made by Barauna, or in official documents, are contradictory. None of the Brazilian ufologists who investigated the case seem to have found this a problem to be resolved; they simply picked out the details which seemed to indicate a genuine and sensational sighting and ignored the awkward bits. (Harney)

It is Almiro Barauna and his photographs that are critical to this case. Recent work by Mori and Powell have demonstrated there are inconsistencies with the photographs that need to be addressed and not ignored or excuses made.

For over forty years, the Trindade case has stood up as a classic UFO case that could not be refuted. However, it is now clear that the amount of rigor applied to investigating the case was less than what was necessary to place the case into such a lofty status. Recent revelations by Mori and others are beginning to change this event from "...one of the most impressive photographic cases in UFO history..." (Clark 564) and "...one of the potentially most significant series of UFO photographs on record..." (Hall 91) to, as Donald Menzel/Ernest Taves described it, "A hoax notorious in UFO annals..." (Menzel and Taves 193).

Works Cited

Clark, Jerry. The UFO Book. Detroit: Visible Ink Press 1998.

Fontes, Olavo. "The UAO sightings at the island of Trindade". APRO Bulletin. Available WWW: http://www.cufos.org/trindade_fontes_article1960.html

Hall, Richard ed. The UFO Evidence. 1964. New York: National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena/Barnes & Nobles Inc. 1997.

Harney, John. "Re: Trindade Material - Part III - Harney" 16 December 2003. UFO Updates Mailing list. On line posting. Available WWW: http://www.virtuallystrange.net/ufo/updates/2003/dec/m17-006.shtml

Hyzer, William G. "More Deceptive Imagery". Photomethods. September 1991 12-13

Menzel, Donald H and Ernest H. Taves. The UFO enigma: The definitive explanation of the UFO phenomena. Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company Inc, 1977.

Mori, Kentaro. Clouds. Available WWW: http://www.geocities.com/airsmither/trinclouds.htm

Mooney, Mark Jr. "Camerette #18: Trick Photography" The Camera. Baltimore, MD January 1945 p 42-68.

Sparks, Brad. "Re: The Big Global UFO Secrecy Agenda." 15 August 2004. UFO Updates Mailing list. On line posting. Available WWW: http://www.virtuallystrange.net/ufo/updates/2004/aug/m16-005.shtml

For further information concerning Martin Shough's perspective on the Trindade case, you can read http://www.geocities.com/parcellular/ufo/trindex.htm

Recent news and articles about the case can be found in SUNlite 2-1, 2-5, 3-2, and 3-3

Back to: Trindade Island index

Back to My skeptical opinion about UFOs